What Is There to Fear?
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. — Proverbs 18:24
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. — Job 9:10
When we are young, best friends are sworn in by pinky-swears, crossed hearts and secret handshakes. As we slowly grow older, best friends are the keepers of our best secrets, and are our partners in crime. As adults, a true best friend is a shoulder to cry on, your biggest cheerleader, and, in some cases, your saving grace.
For Gwen Hitt and Connie Barbier, what began as a simple message of encouragement between two friends has grown into daily inspiration for hundreds to remember to pray, love and, above all, keep faith.
Gwen and Connie graduated together from high school in 1973. When Gwen decided to pursue a teaching career 12 years later, she called Connie to tell her the news.
“She replied, ‘Why would we want to do that?’” Gwen says. “There was no question as to if I was going to do this alone. Connie automatically jumped on board.”
Together, they studied hard, sharing adventures as the oldest in a classroom full of students in their late teens or early twenties. Although both raising children and taking care of their households, they remained on the honor roll each semester. After graduation, the pair got jobs at different schools.
“Connie went on to become an exceptional preschool teacher,” Gwen says. “Parents wanted their children to have her, and the students did not want to leave Ms. Connie.”
Although separate careers and growing families kept the friends distant, they always remained close and found ways to catch up on life. Then, one day, their conversation took a different, serious turn.
I’M HERE FOR YOU
Connie was diagnosed with cancer at the same time Gwen’s father was in the hospital fighting for his life. In a time of need of her own, Connie was there to offer Gwen a shoulder to cry on when her father did not recover.
“Rather than assisting Connie in all she was going through, she comforted me because that was the type of person she was,” Gwen says.
Connie survived her first bout with cancer. But in February 2012, she was diagnosed with mucosal melanoma, a rare cancer that originated in her sinus cavity.
Gwen decided to offer encouragement the only way she knew how—each morning, she started sending text messages that contained a Scripture to Connie and her family. These messages evolved into daily devotionals, and Gwen began emailing instead of texting them.
At first, Gwen’s recipient list contained only five people—Connie, her daughters and Gwen’s daughters—who, unbeknown to Gwen, began forwarding the emails to their friends and family. Before she knew it, every morning, Gwen was emailing the devotionals to 40 recipients.
Combined with the support of her family, the messages and Connie’s resilient attitude, she remained hopeful.
“Connie told me repeatedly that the messages helped her so very much,” Gwen says. “On many mornings, we would discuss the message on my way to work. She told me her faith was strengthened.”
At the same time, Gwen’s own faith began to grow. The daily devotionals focused on messages of faith, hope, heaven, healing, miracles and Jesus. As more people entered the group, Gwen shared with them the reason for the devotional and asked them to pray daily for Connie.
MIRACLES AT THE END
Soon, the tumor made it a challenge for Connie to breathe. Miraculously, it began to shrink, lessening the burden on her to take breaths. During these ups and downs, Gwen says, Connie also desired to spend more time with her youngest daughter, Courtney, her son-in-law and two grandsons in New York.
“God gave her the strength to make that trip in October, and to spend precious time with her daughter,” Gwen says.
Another miracle came when Connie was able to sit in the front row of her daughter Alison’s wedding in November—something that they had prayed for.
Connie’s daughters continued to provide emotional and physical care for their mother throughout the year, while Connie’s husband, Tim, helped care for her every step of the way. Sadly, on Dec. 21, Connie took her last breath, surrounded by her family.
“I really don’t consider Connie’s passing as having ‘lost the battle,’” Gwen says. “We prayed for God to heal her and I believe He did. Although she died a physical death, she is free from cancer and can spend a lifetime with Jesus. We know this with complete certainty because of her strong faith.”
As Gwen sat down to write her last message for her friend on the night before Connie’s funeral, she discovered that God had other plans for her daily devotionals. Gwen’s daughter Rachelle brought her mother two pages of responses from people in the community whom read and continually draw inspiration from the daily devotionals.
“As I read the responses, all I could do was cry,” Gwen says. “I cried because I was so touched by how my dear friend Connie’s suffering had inspired so many to face their trials with her courage and will to go on. It was a moment I will always remember, and I knew at that moment that I had to continue the devotional.”
To help lighten the workload, Rachelle offered to write the devotional every other day. Rachelle’s husband, Brandon, would also contribute one message at least once a week. Rachelle set the devotionals to be delivered via Constant Contact, an online service that allows users to send out emails to multiple addresses at once without having to enter email addresses each time. This made it easier for those interested to join the list. The devotional could also be emailed every day at the same time.
“The name of this online website quickly brought one of our recent devotionals that Rachelle had written on the meaning of Connie’s name to mind,” Gwen says. “Rachelle discovered that Connie’s name means constant. We had planned to dedicate the messages to Connie, and we truly believe that God orchestrated all of this in order for Connie’s story to continue touching lives.”
STAYING CONSTANT IN FAITH
The devotionals now had a name: Constant Friend. Delivered to 350 email subscribers and steadily growing, it is free and meant to be read in less than three minutes. Each devotional starts with a Scripture, followed by an encouraging word, a challenge and a short prayer. Consistent themes throughout the week are miracles, one’s relationship with God, purpose, one’s relationship with others, faith, prayer and praise.
Rachelle and Gwen get together to map out weeks in advance so that they can keep the content fresh and relevant. Usually, the “even” days are written by Gwen and the “odd” days are written by Rachelle, while Brandon offers his devotional once a week. Rachelle put together a website and a Facebook page, and began to enlist subscribers.
“Looking back, we only got it all together so quickly through the grace of God,” Rachelle says. “My mom was still mourning the loss of her dear friend. I believe the devotional is what helped get her through this tough time.”
Drawing inspiration from God, messages at church, the Bible and life situations, Gwen, Rachelle and Brandon write original, yet God-inspired devotionals.
“We don’t want this to be about us,” Rachelle says. “We want it to be about God’s love and healing power for those in seemingly impossible situations.”
Although both ordained ministers, Rachelle and Brandon say their readers are very diverse and come from multiple religious backgrounds and denominations, as well as demographics, both male and female. Working together, they bring positive messages of faith to hundreds of people daily.
‘WHAT IS THERE TO FEAR?’
On an October day, when Connie made her last visit to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and received the news she was hoping not to hear, she sat to write the daily devotional herself.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
“I know that God is with me and that He will not let me fight this alone,” Connie wrote. “He is an awesome God that has given me the most knowledgeable medical team. He has sent an army of people to pray with and for me, some of whom I have never met.”
She continued: “He has sent my dear friend Gwen to keep me strong in faith and to teach me verses from the Bible that will help me to understand eternal life … I have a wonderful, supportive husband, two children who give of their lives to take care of me, family, friends, neighbors and a community that supports me and helps me get through this on a daily basis. What is there to fear?”
With an example of faith like that, it is easy to see where Connie’s family and friends could so easily draw inspiration for their own lives.
“There is one thing that every friend and their family needs,” Gwen says. “They need you to not forget them, and to continue to lift them in prayer and to encourage them … even if it is just a text message or an email.”
Want to subscribe to Constant Friend? Share the faith. Here’s how:
Text CONSTANT to 42828